Πέμπτη, 4 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

My week in movies #3

Winter has definitely arrived here in the Netherlands and what is the best way to get through it? Yes, you got it, movies. So, a nice film, some warm chocolate (probably wine) and good company are the basics you need for this winter. Here, I have a list of some of the films I managed to watch the past week(s). This list can be used as a suggestion for a film when you don't know what to watch and as an informative critical piece about films you might have already seen or planning to – either in the cinemas or at home.

(You can find detailed plots through each title linking to Imdb)

The following reviews are from my Letterbox profile.

Based on the novel of Jack Kerouac, this film unfortunately failed to keep up with the expectations it raised. It is a road movie (?), but the constant drunk and sex scenes dominate the meretricious beat narration. The actors, along with the story, are trapped in nice shots and seemingly meaningful narration. It tried too hard to represent the beat generation and to follow that sense of life. OK, the beats were using drugs and were experimenting in all levels, but this film wanted to show too much of it, becoming that way something very 'small' in the film world. Sex and drugs were something new back then, but today they have become obsolete. And what really matters today is the beat generation's literary heritage.

Two guys are working on a remote highway road, having to deal - except for the solitary challenges of this construction job - with mostly each other. Alvin is the oldest and seemingly the wisest and Lance the youngest, ignorant one. Alvin is maintaining a relationship with Lance's sister, something that complicates their relationship even more. They don't like each other, but they do need each other. To work, to survive, to get over anything that seems to trouble them from their previous urban lives.

The multiple gaps in the story and the many information we never learn about the character's background, are the main disadvantages of this film. It really lacks in content. Some beautiful shots in the remote Texan nature are not enough to elevate this film from a below medium position to a decent one. It is funny at times and the actors show their potential, but again they stumble on the weak narration and the almost absent story. We don't see any character development, anything to prove that there is a story. Only their relationship is shown with long shots and funny lines. But is there really anything more to it?

What can I say for a movie when thousands of reviews and articles have already been written for? Nothing more than my humble and honest opinion. It really amazed me with how much love and dedication Nolan made this film. He didn't do anything at random. He wrote a story, dealing with the exploration of time travel, black holes and gravity, that has a deep human base: love.

He took the logical scientific facts and put them in a frame of purity and tenderness about the essence of our nature. He really knows how to make high quality cinema that also becomes a sensation selling thousands of tickets. But this doesn't really say anything to me. What does is his devotion to his vision, his profound intelligence and his talent to dive into space with total conscience of his abilities, his restrictions, his imagination and most of all his modest humanity.

Space is vast and is mostly depicted with fear and awe from humans. The fact that we haven't discover all its secrets makes it even more dark and mysterious. Nolan managed to unlock - even if it is not completely scientifically correct - this big chest of those mysteries and explore the deepest of our imagination and potential. The key he used to open this chest, the key with which he gave meaning to all the uncertainties of our universe is our own human nature. Our love and affection moves around our existence. Our emotions and memories are the fuel that keeps us moving, that makes us who we are, that makes us humans.

An extremely powerful story about a middle aged woman and a 17 year old boy, who shared a passionate love affair in Post-WWII Germany. After the abrupt ending of this relationship, the - now law student - boy discovers that the woman he fell in love with, almost 10 years ago, is on trial for war crimes.

A deep and emotional film with three different narration points and an extraordinary Kate Winslet giving the performance of her life (she won the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Oscar in 2009). I really found this a breathtaking story that blew me away. And when you like a movie so much instantly, you tend to ignore some faults in direction or in narration that might have occurred. To me, it made perfect sense exactly how it was made, even if my critical thinking tries to remind me at times of all the flaws.

I am still amazed of how this proud woman overflows with guilt about her past and actions and prefers to carry the burden of her illiteracy all by herself. Her strength is proving to be her greatest weakness. All those contradictions of her character make sense only though the filter of true love. Because she was (and still is) loved. So intense and so deep by a young ignorant boy that everything else seems trivial. 

This boy will later also be torn apart by this awful burden of guilt because of his choice to turn his back to his one and true love. The tragedy of the story finds peace somehow to its core. Their true love. Because they both shared that in their lives. At least they had the chance to experience each other's love.

I found this film enormously funny and enjoyable. Bill Murray was made for this role. He took it and made it his. Vincent is a filthy old drunk, completely rude and hateful towards everyone he meets. He is bitter with life and sarcasm is his second nature. He soon dries up from money and realizes he can be the baby-sitter of his neighbor's son, when one day the kid gets bullied and with his keys stolen he asks Vincent for help. It sounds like the typical story of bad-grumpy old guy meeting young kid and becoming good again, but here something is different.

Vincent doesn't seem to change and it becomes clear enough that he always had a good heart, he just needs to be reminded of it. The young boy, Oliver, enters his life abruptly and becomes something like the son Vincent never had, somebody to show the filthy world we live in, somebody to trust. Even if Vincent doesn't really trust anybody.

One of the last scenes of the film is one of the most touching- like ever. Oliver is presenting his assignment about a saint he knows, revealing to the crowd that saints are endurable, tough people who are not afraid to be themselves and make a difference in the world. And his saint is Vincent of course.

The story has a lot of ups and downs. A lot of stuff is being revealed about Vincent and his past, the possible reasons behind his behavior. Generally the film contains a lot of info about him, leaving the other characters under his shadow. But we don't care about that, because we only think of him and we subconsciously consider of our own Vincents, or even better, our own Vincent side.

This is an honest film with loads of awesome funny moments, especially if you are a fan of Murray. Let your heart go with it and you will realize its true magic, even if not everything in it is perfect. Just like Vincent himself.

Τετάρτη, 26 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Stories We Tell (2012)

Director: Sarah Polley
Writers: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley (narration)
Stars: Michael Polley, John Buchan, Mark Polley, Harry Gulkin
Production: Canada
Duration: 108'

This is a story of a family and their mother, whose personal life affected everyone around her. She is the mother of the director, Sarah Colley, an acclaimed Canadian filmmaker who decided to dive into her own past, her family's history in order to create one of the most breathtaking and deepest documentaries of our times. 

"Stories We Tell" talks about Diane, a young ambitious actress whose energy and vitality is contagious to the people who know her. One day, at a play she was participating, she met a young guy named Micheal who was meant to be her husband. With him she lived a happy shared life, along with their four children - two from a previous failed marriage of Diane - when Sarah was born. Their life didn't change that much, not until Diane passed away from cancer, when Sarah was still quite young. 

The youngest and most different of all, the director herself, gives the necessary space to her interviewees to unfold their own side of their family story, revealing - what started as a joke in the beginning - the possibility that Sarah might be the result of an short affair her mother had. After searching, Sarah will discover that her mother had indeed an affair when she played in a play years ago. What will she come across after this revelation that changed everybody's life? Who is the father and what will happen to Micheal if he finds out?

The unfolding of the many stories is not necessarily narrated with that order. What starts as a portrait of Diane and a family, slowly turns into a deeper and stronger story. Nothing is what it seems in the beginning and Sarah knows that. The interviews she held with her brothers and sisters, her father and friends of Diane, are revealing, through the powerful effect of the editing, a magnificent story about family bonding and love. 

The main story is being narrated by Micheal, Sarah's father, as a monologue that he wrote himself. He talks about his life and his relationship with Diane with pure honesty, displaying only particles of the stories we are being told. Sarah takes over the narration at times, leaving many of the protagonists to tell their own. Along with the interviews we see real footage of Diane through the years, but also reconstruction of her life with actors. Those glimpses of memory lost in time provide a melancholic and nostalgic tone to the film, like all these are happening to somebody else, anyone in this world, like those images are part of anyone's life. 

The way this personal documentary is filmed and edited is the main core of its importance. How she put the fragments together and how she managed to build this tension and this depth - without even trying to be sentimental - it is remarkable. Pieces of personal stories come together and create a mosaic that talks further from the obvious. It is not just a personal story anymore. Because the stories of each and everyone's lives are a mere reflection of our own current self. 

Sarah manages to talk about her own life with such an objectivity. She magnificently unfolds the stories of her own life without even intervening. It is like she is letting us do the judgment on either what is being told or the characters and their actions. The fact that we don't really see her clear point of view shows only the artistic and cinematic magnitude of her existence. Nobody could ever do this more successfully than Sarah Polley. 

While the stories unfold, we see how Sarah gives equal narration space to both of her fathers - the biological and the one who raised her. This decision does not minimize the importance of the story and it exalts the director even more. Michael is the father who raised her and loved her. A man who put his family first, neglecting at times his wife, is a lonely person with immense wit and humor. The biological father, a drifter who stares now at the past and the life he could have had, is someone quite different and yet a bit the same. The sure is they have one thing in common: their daughter. 

"Stories We Tell" is an immense proof of pure cinematic art and human influence. It changed the way personal stories are told by making the "my story" into an "our story", by making it universal. This documentary talks bravely about true love and life itself. How the course of our lives is so closely connected with the one of our families and our friends. This documentary is about us all, and not Sarah alone. It is about our own stories and the way they influence our very own future. This humanity and universality you discover here is and will be beyond comparison. 

Δευτέρα, 17 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Director: David Fincher
Writers: Gillian Flynn (screenplay), Gillian Flynn (novel)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens
Production: USA
Duration: 149'

It's been three whole years since Fincher's last (average for my taste) film "The girl with the dragon tattoo", but we had the pleasure to see him work for television in the addictive "House of Cards" Netflix series, unfortunately only in two episodes! Well, he is an executive producer, so we guess he soon will be joining the directors chair again. 

David Fincher has returned to his good old ways with some slight changes - towards perfection, let me add - in the way he sees human relationships and the evil that surrounds them. The story comes from the novel of Gillian Flynn - who also wrote the screenplay - and talks about Nick, an average guy, who wakes up one morning only to discover his wife Amy missing. 

Nick is supposed to be in distress, instead he is acting detached like an observer and while he is trying to figure out what the heck is going on, the basic narrative splits up in two revealing Amy's voice, who talks like a ghost from the past through the diaries she left behind. We suddenly witness two different lines of narrative that build up the story with great drama and suspense. You have Nick's side of the story and Amy-from-the-past story. Nick is frustrated and has to deal with both the police, who intensively suspect him, the parents - famous snobby writers - and the media - hungry for indecency. 

Nick is in the spotlight and he hates it. What has he done to deserve this? He lingers in memories and good  old feelings from when they met, when they married and when they both imagined a happy shared life. Amy is helping on that with her narrative. But something went wrong during those years. Or perhaps something was already wrong from the beginning. 

Ben Affleck manages to convey both the detachment and the fear of the character, but also to create a purely doubtful profile. Rosamund Pike has this delicate face and performs as she was waiting to play this character all her life. Raw and dark performances, just how we like it in Fincher's universe. 

The media of the country hunt him down and Nick becomes suddenly part of a media frenzy he can't avoid. A criticism on today's media for the continuous crave for the obscene is one of Fincher's points in this film. It is the obvious one. The other one is much more disturbing. How all of this attraction to obscenity derives from human nature. This is what he claims here. He puts our nature in the spot and acknowledges how drawn we are by the deepest and darkest parts of it.

Through the split narrative and the flashbacks in time, a mosaic of baffled circumstances is created about Amy's disappearance and possible murder, making the whole story even more intriguing, even more complicated. Multiple questions ran through your brain and you are struggling to find the answers that might reveal the reasons of those people's actions. 

This slow-boiling thriller displays an intense and raw direction from Fincher, who is considered the master of twisted turns in the stories he deals with and who knows very well how to deal with his characters. Amy knows all of Nick's secrets, thoughts, moves. He is exposed. Nick understands very deeply his wife. Do they really know  each other? Do they trust each other? The depth of their disturbed relationship emerges to the surface with amazing perplexity. 

Fincher knows extremely well how to manipulate a story and how to create real feelings for the characters. How their behavior is so contagiously affecting and how you as a viewer enter so deep into their reality. You get lost and confused by the ardent actions of those people. You become part of their story whether you like it or not. You can't escape. This is what Fincher does to you. 

One of the greatest things of this movie, in which you don't expect anything less than an absolute mind-fuck, is the fact of misconception and how in a glimpse of an eye, everything changes. Nothing is what it seems. Unfortunately I can't say more, because I will ruin the film experience for you, but one thing I can say is the  supreme greatness with which Fincher deals with his material and how he achieves this deep connection with the characters, so at the end you actually like those bastards, those sociopaths, those weirdos, those nasty nasty people. 

When you see this movie, be prepared to dive into a world of mischief and games. Games that can reveal more than you ever thought about the people around you, but mostly about yourself. 

Δευτέρα, 3 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Reality (2014) by Quentin Dupieux

71st Venice Film Festival 

(first published in the e-book of Nisimazine

REVIEW: Reality by Quentin Dupieux (France, Belgium) – Orrizonti

Quentin Dupieux, director of the infamous Rubber (2010), has come to Venice with luggage full of distorted realities or better to say a strange need to explore the idea of mixing everybody's dreams, making us wonder if anything of what we saw was part of a twisted game. “Reality” struggles hard to find the necessary balance between its real purpose – if there is any - and the overachieved surrealism it inevitably shares.

Jason is a peaceful cameraman living in California. He is dreaming of making his own film, where television sets are the most dangerous thing in the whole planet. They produce those weird kind of waves that slowly make humans more stupid, while their ultimate goal is to extinguish them. He approaches Bob Marshal, a film producer, who gets overexcited with his crazy idea. He will sign the deal as soon as Jason gets the perfect groan in 48 hours.

But Jason's is not the only story we discover. A young man working as a TV presenter on a food program has an unstoppable need to scratch himself, thinking there is something terribly wrong with him, while everyone else thinks he is overreacting. A young girl witnesses a videotape coming out of the insides of an animal, while her father cleans it in order to embalm it. Nobody believes her, but we will come to know that this videotape somehow is the answer to loads of questions. All of those stories, as distant as they might seem with each other, they share something in common; the same confusing connection that leads to nothing more than a dead-end.

In the world Dupieux has created, parallel dreams stream like parades of surrealistic thoughts and acts on one's self and the perception of reality. While the first scenes seem indifferent, you do get hooked on the way the story evolves. The head-exploding music makes sure to achieve that in a conscious but also a deep subconscious level, while the physical effect of it can be disturbing for some time after you watch the film. You too immerse in a deep dream along with the characters. You too step by step lose the sense of reality presented to you.

Dreams lost in dreams in an endless maze with no exit signs. A surreal world where nothing makes sense and somehow everything fits in a distorted kind of way. This is what is being achieved through Dupieux's direction and the narrative he has chosen. His images betray his blurry vision though and the fact that none of these has any clear purpose, only to throw us into the endless world of dreaming.

The moments in the film that are meant to be humorous, fail to communicate any connection with the content. This constant attempt to revive the plot with funny moments is not enough to explain any of what is being shown. While Dupieux can't stop mixing his narrative, we keep wondering how such a promising idea of dreaming in a dream got stuck in all those flat characters and their tiresome realities. This flatness is probably used on purpose in order to intensify the hollowness they carry or probably the fact that they are just plain visitors in those dreary dreams.

There are many questions raised about the definition of our dreams as much as the perception that we have for the realities that surround us. For some of us it is complicated – or intentionally complicated - like in Dupieux's mind and for some others is simpler or indifferent. Those questions only meant to be left unanswered in a film that flirts with the vastness of the subconscious and manages at the same time to convey a frustrating self-conscious feeling. If you have never been lost in a dream, this is your chance to discover how that might feel. Are you ready?

Δευτέρα, 27 Οκτωβρίου 2014

Word with Gods (2014)

71st Venice Film Festival 

(first published in the 4th newsletter of Nisimazine

REVIEW Words with Gods by Guillermo Arriaga, Emir Kusturica, Amos Gitai, Mira Nair, Warwick Thornton, Hector Babenco, Bahman Ghobadi, Hideo Nakata, Álex de la Iglesia (Mexico, USA) – Out of Competition

Religion is part of human history. People always try to define their lives through the temporary answers religion offers. Words with Gods though, deals with multiple questions without falling in the trap to give ultimate answers. It has managed to convey different universal and cultural aspects of human religions creating a respectful and divine whole.

Writer and director Guillermo Arriaga gathered nine acclaimed directors and gave them a mission; to depict their thoughts on spirituality and their perception of God through different religions. Every director chose the religion he/she felt closer to without imposing or manipulating. The purpose of this mosaic was to show truthfully, through a series of diverse stories, the relationship with God. This film is innovative on how it approaches its subject, without escaping being 'heavy'. Every short story is connected visually by the amazing animations of Maribel Martinez and is escorted by the breathtaking score of Peter Gabriel. Those 9 short stories were put in order by Nobel Prize winner writer Mario Vargas Llosa confirming the project's ambition to be remembered beyond Venice Film Festival.

With intense cinematography the first story begins with a pregnant woman walking alone in the Australian desert, in order to find the perfect place to give birth. Having no dialogue, True Gods of Warwick Thornton talks about Aboriginal Spirituality and the strong relation between humans and Earth, expressing how divinity is evident more than ever when the miracle of birth occurs and that true gods are those who have the gift to create those wonders.

A woman after being beaten gathers her clothes and runs out of the house. Her husband will not hunt her down. He will sit on the couch unable to cope with the fact he lost everything. Wandering in the streets of São Paulo, he seeks comfort in his own existence. He has become a lonesome traveler searching for the meaning in life when he discovers a local group of Umbanda and loses himself. In The Man Who Stole a Duck Babenco has managed to give graciously a story about grief and solitude, enhancing the importance of religion to human suffering.

A big wealthy family has just bought a big apartment in Mumbai, arguing over who is getting which room, doubting about where God's rooms should be. Light and colorful, in God's Room Mira Nair talks about Hinduism through the eyes of a young boy, who has trouble synchronizing with his family disputes. He sees through their pretentious behavior the truth about God residing everywhere around us but mostly deep inside us.

Japan 2011. A fisherman has lost his entire family in the destructive tsunami. He is struggling to make amends with why God didn't choose to take him instead of his family. During a conversation with a Shinto Buddhist monk – the strongest scene of the film – he doubts God himself, raising questions of death and loss in the heaviest and most emotional story of all by the hands of horror master Hideo Nakata.

Perhaps the only politically charged film, Book of Amos of Amos Gitai explores, through passages from the Hebrew Bible, Israel's current state in contrast with its past. Words of social balance and equality are said during a fight between soldiers and civilians in a passionate one-shot film, on an attempt to represent divinity and define its essence.

Dark humour and witty dialogues in a story of a ruthless hitman who manages to escape from a failed mission only to be captured by destiny in a self-discovery misfortune. Examining the idea of sin and forgiveness, this tale handles Catholicism without falling into ridiculousness. Comic and smart Alex de la Inglesia's film offers loads of discussion.

A Christian Orthodox priest living in the Serbian countryside takes on a journey of atonement by cleansing himself from all sin. Carrying bags full of stones, he starts climbing on a hill under the hot sun in order to purify himself from the world's suffering. On his way up he will encounter evil, but mostly himself, realizing the necessity of suffering in order to survive. Kusturica purely elaborates on Christian faith, strengthening the importance of torture and distress for achieving grace.

The struggles of conjoined twin brothers on finding a solution between their different desires are shown in an intelligent and divided way in Ghobadi's film. One is craving for a sexual relationship with a woman while the other is devoted to Islam, contrasting lust and faith on a tale about duty and human nature.

The last chapter of Guillermo Arriaga's, God's Blood ends with Death in a poetical depiction of atheism, leaving us with mixed feelings. While the group of the directors has managed to explore courageously their own creativity, it would be useless to compare them or even try to. Whether you believe or not and whatever your cultural and religious background is, you will find yourself wandering about what you saw and coming back to various aspects of this film only to realize the vibrant conversation it manages to open for humanity.

Κυριακή, 7 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

Noah (2014)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson
Production: USA
Duration: 138'

Darren Aronofsky is an artist. He is an artist because he defies his own production company, he tries to stay true to his vision and he really has the need to deliver what he feels he must. He always did that and always will. For me, he hasn't completely succeeded this time. Maybe because he chose a story that was too ambitious. But I understand why he did it. The need to retell Noah's story in a different, totally unexpected way, gave him the freedom to express his own beliefs about religion, nature, humans, wildlife, choices, dreams, family, community and so much more. 

Noah can be read in many ways. It can be read through the clean Christian way and then you can be mad (if you accept it as part of your religion) or it can be read as a new story - based on Noah - giving another meaning in "saving the world from the Creator's fury". But either way I never really understood why Christians opposed so harsh to this movie and the director himself. This story, as all the stories in the Bible, are fairy-tales that carry deep meanings important for Christianity. And this particular one is one of the cruelest. A man is talking with God and decides to build an ark to save only his family and the wildlife of the planet, leaving everyone else outside. Every human being left to drown. Aronofsky showed this cruelty and does not offend in any way any religion. Let's clear that. 

He decided to take this biblical story and turned it into a very glorious project that created a lot of fuzz and made, to most of the crowd, no impression after all. His attempts are worthy of respect, but his script has indeed many flaws. He decided to narrate this story by changing its base elements, keeping the important ones in though, like some names and the plan of saving humanity by building an ark. 

The astonishing first part gives its turn to a totally different second part, where the roles are changing and the narration is weaker. You get a little bit confused, because your mind drifts away back to the "original" story. But wait a minute; Aronofsky already knew that right? And he expected all the negativity - especially from an audience like the American one - but his ambition somehow loses its grip in the movie. There is too much to digest and to accept if you are a Christian and on the other side, there is a whole new story for you to discover. The weakness lies in the fact that he couldn't really separate those two. He tried to escape from the biblical story, but somehow he failed to do that. Either way the result is magnetic. 

The astonishing special effects, the lyrical depiction of Noah's visions, the landscape, the atmosphere, Clint Mansel's gorgeous score, all are harmonically put together. What I love to rediscover is the decline of the characters - it happened so abrupt in the second part - and how Noah from a trusted wise leader turns into a madman, obsessed with his own - imaginary? - Creator inspired visions. Noah and his intentions are in the center. He sees and he decides. What he sees, he interprets it his own way and the rest of the people just watch and obey. But until when?

People around him act differently than the people we know today. They talk differently, they react differently. They share a rare connection with Earth, one that we have lost long ago. They respect and live harmonically with it and they will protect it no matter what. But along goodness and pure purposes, there is always evil hidden, madness, jealousy, revenge. And in the ark the roles ARE changing. The peaceful environment turns into a prison nobody can escape from. 

Aronofksy's creation is ambitious yes, but it also has a deep meaning. Its aggressive environmentalism is for many people hostile and extreme. But I do believe in the kind of art he represents (he is one of my favorites after all) and respect the way he sees the world. He tried to state something truthful through this story. He tried to create it his own way even if he had to stand against his own production company and a very wide - narrow-minded - audience. 

Παρασκευή, 22 Αυγούστου 2014

Under the Skin (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel by Michel Faber
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay 
Production: UK | USA | Switzerland
Duration: 108 mins

The thing I must begin with about this film is how much I admire the sophisticated way it is being made. From the story which doesn't reveal much - only through images - to the minimalistic score that accompanies the film and from the mesmerizing personality (and performance of Johanson) to the questions it lives unanswered, this  elegy on human behavior is beautifully unique. 

Johanson plays an alien on Earth, observing every move of human race in the cold and distant urban and natural Scottish landscape. The goal of this extraterrestrial, manifesting in human form, is to seduce and lure men to this substitute of a nest where there is nothing else but her and the pray. A room with a glassy surface where the horror that lies underneath gets revealed in slow breathtaking doses. 

From the first shots where she is trying to find her voice - tribute to "2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)" of Stanley Kubrick - and is being created into something more human alike, we are introduced into this cold and distant world. Which is our world through their eyes. The way the aliens see the humans and the way Johanson, the hunter, lures them to the nest, provoke frustrated emotions. Firstly because of how she observes everything, how we walk, how we behave, how we act. Secondly because of the cruelty these aliens share. The insensitivity with which they treat humans, the cold and surgical way they act. It is quite horrifying.   

Johanson is not alone. The bikers are her assistants, the ones who will clean up any mess that might be created via the hunting. The obvious structure in their small society gives the feeling that they work mostly based on their nature. Johanson hunts using her attractive human body and the bikers help her stay on track and clean up any further casualties. No distractions, no remorse, no compassion. 

They work based on their plans and based on their basic needs; to hunt, to feed, to retain their human mask, their human skin. Through Johanson's eyes we observe too. We are looking at how she, the alien, sees our world. How scary it looks, how remote. And she has to bring the food to the nest. She has the hardest task. Through these long observations she absorbs information in how to be polite and flirtatious, how to mingle in this world. She shows amazing strength and patience in order to be even more successful in her hunting. 

But at some point she starts losing her goal. She begins observing herself more than her pray. She is fascinated by what she sees, her body, her perfect skin. The interest she grows for humans is now a little bit personal. She tries to act like them, to be like them, she has a curiosity that goes beyond her mission. She will discover the goodness in these humans, the thing that separates them from other beings, but also the bad side. This self-discovery will prove very important for the course of her life. 

What is being shown here is something more an experience than a film. You need to let yourself forget any kind of expectations and just dive into this peculiar, enigmatic world. There is very little dialog, very few explanations. The colors that are being used to show some feelings are unique. The cold blue and black of the night and the sea to show the distant nature of those aliens, the gray palette accompanied by yellow rays of fear when being among humans in this strange society of theirs and the warm colors when she begins getting to know this species through her own self. 

The director doesn't care for giving answers. He just keeps raising more questions that provoke so many disturbing feelings, a way of storytelling that actually helps you get closer to your own human nature. Your basic emotion palette from curiosity and reassurance travels to something like terror and horror, which leads to some surprise and compassion, only to end in disgust, some relief and an eternal wonder of what you have just experienced. 

'Under the Skin' is the film that will trouble you, maybe even tire you with some very long sequences, but you just need to let go and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by what unfolds in front of you. Let this eerie feeling take you over and maybe you will find the answers you were looking for. Become an observer yourself and you might be able to see "under the skin"

Τετάρτη, 9 Ιουλίου 2014

Castaway on the Moon (2009)

Director: Hae-jun Lee
Writer: Hae-jun Lee (screenplay)
Stars: Min-heui Hong, So-yeon Jang, Jae-yeong Jeong
Production: South Korea
Duration: 116 min
Imdb score: 8,2

I found out about this film from some friends and from the moment they described the story, I have to tell you I was hooked. I wanted to watch it very badly. Based in South Korea, the first scene introduces us to a heavy atmosphere. A man is on a bridge calling with his bank. They inform him that he ows a great amount of money and that reassures him about his decision to commit suicide. But the story doesn't end here, it has actually just begun.

Some hours later, he will find himself in an island into the city itself, a deserted place, where all his attempts to find help go futile. Soon, he will discover the beauty of it all; he is a castaway on a place where nobody can find him and suddenly all this sounds very appealing. His daily attempts and struggles to find shelter and food give him exactly what he needed, hope. 

Min-hee Hong appears to be weak and vulnerable in the beginning of this story, but experiencing this intense and unique trip through loneliness and survival, he proves to be more than persistent. During his struggles he will get a strange message from an even stranger observer. Of course somebody would see him, he is after all castaway in his own city. The mystery person will follow his every step and will want to help him after all. But the stubbornness he has developed and the need for hope are stronger than any kind of external help. Soon he will realize how necessary the procedure of survival is to him, but also the communication with this strange person. 

The mystery person is being introduced to us in the beginning as something different. You keep wonder what has this girl have to do with our story, but soon you realize how roughly connected she is to our castaway. A young girl trapped in a virtual world, locked into her own universe, suddenly sees some light in her dark room when the image of this weird "alien" - as she calls him - enters her extra macro lens from her tall window. 

Through the direction of Hae-jun Lee that lingers between deep drama and light comedy, the film's atmosphere is being intensified with sorrow and grief by the long, slow face shots of the two characters. Hope and salvation though, are intelligently hiding behind every dialog or scene, only to re-appear in times when most needed. This unique story speaks truthfully, enslaving anyone that decides to walk in its path. Mesmerizing and incomparable!

Strong and soft, this movie touches your heart unexpectedly via its emphasis on human relations. How we have become ignorant of our need to be around people and to live free of society conventions. How this internet-based, information-bombarded and careless world has made us into human-machines who need to work all day, be on their computers and ignore everything else. How have we become like that? Loneliness is our constant friend and we are afraid to be ourselves around people, sheltered from our own insecurities, blocked by our cyber-addicted brains. 

But wait, there is more. There is freedom even when you walk in darker paths, there is salvation from yourself and there is, purely and truthfully, Hope in its best form. This is what this movie is all about. A reminder that we people are tightly linked with each other and that we can change the course of our future by taking our own lives into our hands. Love is, after all, the answer to everything. 

You never really know where Hope will be hiding, the only thing you need to do is find and grab it!

Τρίτη, 1 Απριλίου 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
With: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman
Duration: 125'

Production: USA, UK, Australia

Saving Mr. Banks is a movie talking about a hard woman, a character so stiff and difficult, you might think it is all fiction. But it is not. It is the story of P.L. Travers, stage name for the acclaimed writer Helen Lyndon Goff, writer of Mary Poppins. 

Walt Disney's daughters always begged him to make the famous children's book series about the magical English nanny Mary Poppins into a movie. He was unsuccessfully trying to convince P.L. Travers to sell to him the book rights. After what seems to be 20 years and due to lack of money, Mrs Travers will eventually succumb to Disney's will to make a deal, being though immensely difficult in terms of the adaptation of her books on screen. 

What begins as a light and funny story of this extraordinary woman, who beneath this dominant attitude she in nothing more than a disappointed from life human being, soon evolves into a serious drama about the hard childhood she suffered, living in Queensland, Australia. 

Her father was a banker who above all loved to live and made everything nice and beautiful for his children. A man who found it hard to devote his whole self into work, instead he preferred playing around with his children, showing them how magnificent life is. In his long attempts to synchronize with his tough work reality, he enslaved himself to alcohol, which made him eventually lose his job. He died of influenza a couple of years later. 

All these aspects of her life we see via flash - backs in her early years, while at the same time she arrives at Los Angeles to talk through the adaptation of her book. In the movie we see that she hasn't sold the rights to Disney yet, something that really helps the plot go on, but in reality she had already done it. In what seems to be a period of some weeks, she, from a harsh, dominant personality and almost disgusted towards Disney, will eventually yield to his will to make a musical with actors and cartoons, even if she never really liked it. 

The extreme loneliness this woman felt all her life begins to unravel while she works with Disney's team through the film script. She keeps remembering the true story behind what inspired her, a story that is not funny or even a musical. Even if the direction shows in parts this tension, we still found ourselves locked into her tough past, something that helps us understand her strictness towards people. 

She never really reveals to the Disney team the real aspects of this story or for the matter the real Mary Poppins, a harsh lady that arrived one day to help her mother with the house and raise the children. A personality that seems Mrs Travers evolved to. She holds inside her the real Mary Poppins and in order to make her life less tougher than it was, she used her talent and imagination and created the character in the book. So that all this burden would finally get off her shoulders. 

P.L. Travers loses herself in her own thoughts. The people around her can see, in the course of time, that she is nothing more than a hurt little girl who just wants to be truthful to her vision of her own life and work. She remembers her drunk father as a loving man who did his best for his family, she evolved him into Mr. Banks, the character in her book. 

He was her life and inspiration for years and even till the end she refuses any changes the studio is planning to make on him. She lives her life dictated by her past, but the past she chose to remember. She made it better, nicer and even more wonderful through her books, only to be able to live through it. 

The movie doesn't really know where to stand. Is it a comedy using Travers' attitude towards people in order to be hilarious? Is it a drama about the life of this family who beneath all the sadness kept hidden the golden beautiful treasures of love and real life meaning? At the end it doesn't really matter, because "Saving Mr. Banks" talks about the life of this woman, her travel through her past and the -what it seems- settlement with her present. 

Emma Thompson seems to be the best choice, since she can perform with absolutely perfectness a role that requires both humor and depth. Even if she wasn't nominated in the Oscars after all, what I believe was extremely unfair, it doesn't really matter. Her work and depiction of the hard, strict, complainer P.L. Travers is amazing. She managed to reveal the human side of hers, her creativity, her talent and her deep love for her father. 

The relationship we see unravel in the movie between Travers and Disney was much more problematic in real life. She hated the final movie and never accepted any of the songs or cartoons participating in it. After the premiere, they never talked to each other again. 

She was devoted to her personal vision till the end of her years and never made more adaptations. However in the movie, she appears to be touched from the immense talent of the Sherman's brothers, something that needed to be screened, in order to depict how creativity is evolving as a process and how the people behind the scenes deserve more of the spotlight. 

As a viewer I would love to see more aspects of her real life, more evidence of how she became such a tough woman, of why she never had children, of how she really managed to transform her past. In this semi-biographical film, the vision and work of P.L. Travers revives in order to show us how some really hard things in life can be transformed into something so unique and beautiful. 

She will be remembered for many years to come and through "Saving Mr. Banks" so will her constant attempts to protect her family, the father she loved so much and the Mary Poppins who helped her get through it all. 

Δευτέρα, 24 Μαρτίου 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch (screenplay)
With: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt
Production: UK, Germany, France, Cyprus, USA
Duration: 123'

And here lies a vampire world so much different than the one we are used to. Two lonely creatures, drifting through the years, through the centuries. They share a deep love for each other and a deep respect for the world they live in. Their names? Adam and Eve, in an ironic reference in religion, one of the few that follow. 

They are in this world for centuries, they have met historic personalities, they have influenced some of them, they are no random souls. They are maybe the last - or the first - of their kind, lost and drifted in a world where everywhere is constant danger. Through many references in literature, science, history, music and film those creatures make a meaning out of themselves. 

It is such a poetically beautiful movie. The harmony that flows within, the deep and unspoken love it vibrates. Those melancholic creatures face the same - almost - problems with any other human being. She is a unique optimist with features 'out of this world'(how beautiful Tilda is) and He is a talented creature, tired of his own self and solitude and blessed with a deep view for the world of music. 

You will not see many characters in this story. Adam and Eve meet with one of their mentors, Marlowe, an old figure (based on the true Christopher Marlowe who is considered to have written some of Shakespeare works according to historian James S. Shapiro) who eventually will drift away. Eve's younger sister, Ava, will disturb their peace by invading in their world, something that is obvious she does once in a century (which is often). Their relationship will be tested as Adam in not a big fan of Ava, while Eve loves and appreciates her little sister, even if she is over the top. 

The truth is that this story doesn't have a beginning or an end. It catches a part of those creatures' lives into this world. They are both a bit retired from life and don't have so much contact with humans as they used to. Adam has given up hope on the human race and his suicidal attitude worries Eve deeply. 

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, the talented independent American filmmaker who has a devoted cinephile audience whatever he does, "Only Lovers Left Alive" is a poetic story of two vampires. The melodic, psychedelic music in the scenes and the slow sequences reveal an auteur with artistic depth and a will to create everything ritually. From how they drink blood (never violently taken anymore), how they make love, how they walk and behave, how they see the world. The time he gives to its characters to evolve, to express their true feelings, works soothingly in the course of the story. 

"Only Lovers Left Alive" is a genuine art film that shows us where the true meaning of life is, even if you are immortal. This movie has created a constant discussion about the melancholic nature of every human walking in this world, having already a truthful attitude towards everything it deals with. In its fiction is utterly genuine